Introduction to Next Generation Poets 2014 by Ian McMillan, Chair of the Judges

Ian McMillan

Let’s trumpet the fact that we’re in exciting times for poetry; to use the common parlance and make it new, poetry is in A Good Place at the moment, and that good place is Here, and Now.

You could speculate about why this is: it could be the cumulative effect of poets going into schools for decades, of the proliferation of creative writing courses in universities, of the internet’s mainly benign effect on writing, publishing and distribution, of the growth of the spoken word scene; because of all these influences for the last few years the idea has been in the air that writing and reading poetry is not only culturally okay, it’s culturally vital.

And that’s where the Next Generation poets come in, pushing at a half-open door and gliding into a noisy and exciting space. As chair of the judges my job was to be keen and enthusiastic in helping my fellow judges shape their decisions. We all wanted a list that was inclusive of styles and approaches and histories and influences, a list that reflected the huge diversity of poetry being written and read at the moment and a list that made people who encountered the poets in it want to read more.

Our Next Generation is a generation that believes in the primacy of poetry in a changing and shifting world; Helen Mort and Melissa Lee-Houghton fuse the personal and political in widely diverse ways, and Hannah Lowe and Daljit Nagra play new and inspiring variations on the same theme, taking family and background and shining new light on the personal myth-kitty and the soul’s photo album. I guess that’s what unites many of our deliberately multifaceted bunch of writers: they take the local and they make it universal, whether it’s Jen Hadfield’s Shetland or Sean Borodale’s beehives, or the streets of Alan Gillis’s northern cities, these writers teach us fundamental truths about ourselves and the wider world from slivers of it that could be dismissed, in a Yeatsian way, as being far from the centre of things.

We all, as judges, had an unspoken but mutually understood imperative that poetry should be able to do things that prose can’t; from opposite ends of the poetry bus, Kate Tempest and Heather Phillipson do just that, respectively breathing air into text to make it sing, and reflecting and celebrating the complicated world with language as complex as the things it describes. Adam Foulds has created a verse-novel that is still determinedly and successfully a long poem, and Luke Kennard and Jane Yeh present us with a world that only poetry could bring into being, a world that actually, when you read it for long enough, is made out of language. Our poets know that poetry is not the tip of the iceberg, it’s the iceberg itself and that’s why we can rejoice that Annie Freud, Emily Berry and Emma Jones create work that bears examination and re-examination as you swim deeper. Tara Bergin brings her knowledge of European poetry to bear on her sparkling work, and Mark Waldron does the same with the commercial language-zeitgeist, both of them proving that poetry can be drawn from any well you like, as long as it’s nice and deep.

A life can be brought into focus when you write it into the lines of a poem; Rebecca Goss’s work on grief and renewal and Kei Miller’s examination of the geographical and psychogeographical makeup of the self make unique, individual lives emblems for wider concerns, as does Sam Willetts’s journal of a life lived, and lived, and lived.

Enjoy this next generation!

Ian McMillan

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